#ReVISIONweek Day Seven: Small But Mighty Revision Tip: Lauren is Saying Goodbye to Stale Words (And Hello to Juicy Replacements)

We all have our favorite darlings. Those words that creep into our writing over and over again.

In my work as a developmental and a line editor, I hone in on those words in other people’s work right away. But in my work… well, that’s a different story entirely.

I actually thought I had a decent handle on my stale words, and then I attended a brilliant workshop by Ariane Peveto at the amazing Rocky Mountain Chapter- SCBWI Letters and Lines conference last weekend.

Let me tell you, Ariane opened my eyes and then some! (I can’t wait to dive into her online content.) Long, amazing presentation short, she said there is an overabundance of the word “look” in our writing. I had NO idea. So, out of curiosity, I did a “find” of the word “look” on my current WIP (which I must add is a YA not a PB). Guess how many times I had some variation of the word look in my manuscript?

YUP! In 60,000 words, I repeated a variation of the word “look” 160 times.

Wow! It is a good thing I’m revising right now.

Today, I challenge you to look for stale words in your manuscript. Find them and then replace them with:

  • juicy words
  • synonyms that better/best capture the meaning
  • terms that DON’T feel like stage directions
  • shiny-new sentences or phrases that use wonderful literary tools
  • sensory images
  • action

Here is a list of “stale” words to spur you forward. (Note: I said “spur you forward” instead “help you get started” which has too many stale words.)

Feel free to comment below with your stale (and favorite) darlings to whom you are bidding adieu and replacing anew. We will all benefit from sharing with each other!

PRIZE ALERT: I am offering two 30-minute Zoom critique consultations to two different winners (one consult each.)

Feel. Write. Risk.


Lauren H. Kerstein is an author and psychotherapist. She is a Jersey girl at heart who currently lives in Colorado with her husband, their two dragons…er, daughters, and their rescue dogs. Lauren is the author of the Rosie the dragon and Charlie picture book series (Illustrated by Nate Wragg/Two Lions) and HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press). REMEMBERING SUNDAYS WITH GRANDPA (Illustrated by Nanette Regan/Beaming Books) is expected Fall 2023. Lauren also writes books in her field. Lauren’s books include themes of courage, flexible thinking, friendship, social emotional learning, foster care, seeing your strengths, sensory issues, and emotion regulation. She is represented by Deborah Warren with East/West Literary Agency. Her writing goals are simple. Read voraciously. Embrace feedback. Grow each day. Work hard. Be passionate. Write courageously. Touch children’s hearts. You can visit her at www.LaurenKerstein.net.


32 thoughts on “#ReVISIONweek Day Seven: Small But Mighty Revision Tip: Lauren is Saying Goodbye to Stale Words (And Hello to Juicy Replacements)

  1. Guilty on “But” and “So” for sure! I know “Then” is another big one I need to watch out for. Interested to run a search on the others you mentioned. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Thanks for this post, Lauren! I know I use the word LOOK a lot too in my PBs. It’s always fun to zero in on our favorite words. I also tend to use giggle, smile, and laugh, and I end up having to omit/switch them as I revise.

  3. Ha-ha, Lauren. I love that “bagel” is in your word cloud of overused words. I want a bagel NOW. I look for wards that remove the reader one step further away in my attempt to master “close 3rd person.” So, get ride of “he/she/they looked, saw, heard, felt.” Replace with WHAT they actually saw/ heard, felt.
    Example: Rain pelted. CRASH! I jolted as the storm crackled.

  4. Lol “bagel.” I do go through my manuscripts and try and replace stale words with juicy words. It’s always surprising after a first draft!

  5. I know I use the word ‘was’ way too much. Please remind me how to do that cool word frequency chart. I’m not even sure what it’s called. By the way I enjoyed yesterdays Twitter discussion. I would love to win a critique.

    • I am glad you enjoyed yesterday’s Twitter discussion. I am not sure what that chart is called, but I’d love to know! Or are you referring to the word cloud I created for the post? If so, you can create them online for free.

    • I usually brainstorm words that might be particularly applicable to the manuscript in word banks as part of my prep, and sometimes sneak them in when I vomit out my first draft. But I often use placeholders and then go back to insert juicy ones during the revision process.

  6. Yes! Those stale words cling to our gray matter like mosquitoes! Thank you, Lauren, for calling my attention to those stinkers. I’ve got some serious research and reviewing to do. Thank you and guests for these awesome 7 days.

  7. Thank you for another REVISION week. I revised one MS and another I shelved because it might not be its time right now, but I decided to enter it in a contest. I often use “just” and “and”. Many stage directions as well and not enough heart moments. A lot of great tips this week to use moving forward with my next revision. I would be curious to know how you end up replacing all the “look” in your manuscript.

  8. GREAT POST, Lauren! We all have words we overuse. If we become aware of these, we can go back through our stories and look specifically for them so we can weed them out (I highlight words I overuse, so I can see them standing out from the rest). As a university writing tutor, I notice two words POPPING UP ALL THE TIME in students’ papers: “very” and “that.” We usually write how we speak, so the word “that” creeps in A LOT. When, really, it isn’t even necessary. I challenge students (and writers–INCLUDING MYSELF!) to read any sentence with “that” in it, without “that.” If it still reads right without it, there’s no need for it. But sometimes–just sometimes–it is necessary. Reading a sentence with it and then again without, will give you the answer.

    The other word, “very,” is a HIGHLY OVERUSED, LAZY, DESCRIPTIONLESS “descriptive” word. You can usually leave it out altogether. Or by replacing it with a more descriptive word, JAZZ your manuscript up A LOT more.

    PS: I LOVE how you included “bagel” in the mix of your overused word list! 😉
    THANK YOU for the INSPIRATION to get rid of the “stale bagels” in our writing!

  9. Thanks for another exciting week of revision tips! I am always aware of the stinkers put, got, went and took but look is now another one I will “look” out for. I have a cheat sheet with all the filler words. I need to bring it out again. Thanks for this helpful week!

  10. Ha, I hadn’t thought of “look” either. I am guilty overusing “just”, “only”, and “but” to name a few! Thanks for the tip and for organizing this amazing learning experience!

  11. Oooo I way overuse “finally”! Even when it is not really the final thing that happens! (Like I finally get to the end of a sentence!)

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